I don’t often do music reviews, but when my favorite band comes out with their first album in thirteen years, I have more than two cents to give to how I feel about it. Check out my review for Tool’s “Fear Inoculum”, below
‘Celebrate this chance to be alive and free” – Maynard James Keenan
Waiting thirteen whole years for an album to be released rarely pays off with positive results, but “Fear Inoculum” is accomplishing and audibly unlike anything that has come before it. Brought front-and-center with ten new Tool tracks that somehow feel even more experimentally ominous than we’ve come to know from the band, the album takes us on an anxiety-riddled roller-coaster of deposited fear, that guides us through the many stages of acceptance for such an unpleasant toxin, that weighs so heavily on the decisions of our lives. With this new experience, Maynard, Justin, Adam, and especially Danny have brought their best to the forefront, giving us a combination of visual eye-popping artwork that plays on a monitor included with the record, as well as audible entrancement that transcends time and space elusively.
The album itself is anything but a quick listen, averaging ten whole minutes per song, but offering enough tasty groove sections throughout to satisfy the hardcore instrumentalist in all of us. I’ve heard critiques from others that tracks are a bit too long for their taste, and to those I question what band you were listening to in the first place. Albums like “10’000 Days” and “Lateralus” were known for their long-winded approaches, taking ample time to enjoy the skill of the craft that each member of the band have excelled at. If I do have one critique for the album however, it’s definitely in the decision to give us four different tracks of relief, where nothing but sound effects can be heard. For my money, two of these should’ve been removed for two more songs, but the six new songs that we do receive give us plenty to digest, all the while reminding us that perfection isn’t attained in the short term of creativity.
Kicking us off is the stimulating “Fear Inoculum” title track, which guides us through 90 seconds of ambiance establishing before the rhythm section eventually kicks in. Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey prove that nearly thirty years after Tool first burst onto the scene, they are still the very best at creating a dark and ominous tone to audibly seduce the listener. After that tone is set, Maynard returns to the microphone with a crooning of the opening lines that are appropriate for far more than just the context of the song. It’s no accident that the first lyrics we hear are “Immunity, Long overdue”. A statement so fitting for the band that have redefined timely releases and studio obligations in favor of their own artistic integrity, which has gained them a legion of patient hardcore enthusiasts who indulge them faithfully. What I love about this track is the slight deviation in repetition that overwhelms us to a suffocating claustrophobia, compliments of Maynard’s soft eloquency and the fuzz guitar work that serenade us so serenely.
The drums and bass are definitely the stars of the album, and no one can change my mind about that. The following track “Pneuma” establishes this prominence in attention with a gritty and brooding demeanor in Adam Jones riffs coming in hot. The stylized percussion adds to the transcending quality of the track, giving us over eleven colorful minutes of trance-inducing music that flows like a pulse. This song more than any pays homage to the 90’s Tool that made them household names, and cements it with a modern day production value that seamlessly mends the crossroads of each generation for the best of both worlds.
We are then treated to the two leaked songs that the band have been playing live since March, in “Invincible” and “Descending”. These are the ideal jam tracks that you would expect Tool fans to blast while losing weight within the bubble of space and time, and give us no shortage of tempo changes and emotional spontaneity to always keep the listener guessing. Thanks to riveting closing directions and alluring climaxes for both songs, these two feel like sister songs in all the best ways, and bring with them the best lyrical abilities of Maynard’s pen throughout the entire album. If there are any two tracks that I would play for people who have never heard Tool to allure them to this album, it would easily be these two.
“Culling Voices” is the natural midpoint of the album, and while it has a slow build initially, it’s the second half of the track that delivers. The guitar and bass chug along, working in coalition with Maynard’s digs a little deeper for a melodic spell over the listener. This is certainly the story of two halves, which sets it apart from other songs on the album, giving it an evolution from start to finish that only proves the band gets stronger the longer they push the envelope creatively. This is my least favorite song of the new material, but it’s only because so much of the work surrounding it is invasive and brunt, and doesn’t take as long to deliver on the heat of its contextual message.
We then go into “Chocolate Chip Trip”. If you go into this song blind and hear the alienesque effects being looped, you will think that Maynard had too much of his own wine to put this track on the finished product. If you stick with it though, you will hear one of the best drum solos ever recorded. Backstory on Carey’s work on the track reveals that Danny laid it down in between takes on the album, and it was so thunderous and incredible that the band decided they needed to incorporate it somewhere on the album. I’m glad they did, because it proves that the band does things with sounds that no one minus maybe Nine Inch Nails can pull off with hypnotic enchantment. With this track, Tool proves that they have no fear when it comes to the power that they have over their fans, and the way that the freakishly cryptic four minutes fits into the rest of the album’s message is one that surprisingly fits with such little force.
Finally, we get to “7empest”, easily my favorite track on the album, and one of my top ten favorite Tool songs of all time. The long wait for new Tool music seems forgivable when you go through sixteen minutes of gorgeous music. The guitar chords leading into Jones’ distortion are amazing, and Maynard sounds like he’s coming undone here with a lyrical repetition that hammers home song ideals with commanding stature. Summarizing “7empest” in a few sentences would be doing a grave disservice. It’s a huge track, and one that is worth every second of your time. For my money, there’s pieces here that colorfully paint the entire journey that every Tool album has taken us on, and like Maynard alluded to in “Schism”, they all fit wonderfully.
Looking at the album piece by piece, there is a huge time commitment, especially in the form of lyric-less tracks that could’ve easily been omitted as a whole to keep the pacing of the songs and album that much more fluid. However, even with that detraction, I still love this album. My expectations for the album were met accordingly, in that it was over 80 minutes of a jam session through tons of change in speeds, style, and overall mood. It meets the expectations of Tool fans remarkably, especially considering the last album’s title “10’000 Days” seems like it’s hinting at a joke within the Tool community for when the next release will come. With that said, “Fear Incoculum” is the answer to years of anticipation. It’s a sonically deep and masterfully executed album that will undeniably have replay value for years to come, giving us plenty to dissect within the dangerous territory that is Maynard’s mind. Even after seven albums and a catalog of work that spans thirty years, the band proves that age and evolution are meaningless to four guys who blaze their own paths, and do so with a little fear for our digestion.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-